Joel 2:12-18 Return to the Lord with your whole heart, with fasting, prayer, and sacrifice. This is the time to set things right with God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, relenting in punishment.
Psalm 51 Have mercy on me, O God. In your goodness and compassion wipe out my offences. “Be merciful Or Lord, for we have sinned”.
2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:2 Be reconciled to God. Now is an acceptable time; now is the day of salvation
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 Jesus: Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them. Rather give alms in secret, pray in solitude, and fast without appearing to be fasting. And your heavenly Father, who sees all, will repay you.
Today we begin another Lenten season, preparing us not only for Easter in early April, but strengthening us in faith so as to grow ever closer to Jesus and one another. The ashes we will shortly have signed onto our foreheads remind us that we are all sinners in need of repentance. In a way, as in ancient times, covering ourselves in ashes is a sign that we are open to being renewed as creations made in the image of God.
These ashes bring to mind the opening lyrics of a familiar hymn: “We rise again from ashes, from the good we’ve failed to do. We rise again from ashes, redeemed, O Lord, by you. Our penance, Lord, our sorrow, our grieving hearts anew, an offering of ashes, an offering to you.”
Appropriately so, tonight’s Scripture readings exhort us to return to the Lord with all our hearts, acknowledging that none of us is without sin. Strengthened by God’s grace, we recommit to living holy lives. The tools we have are threefold—Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.
- Prayer: we make time to begin our days with prayer, in whatever form we prefer. Perhaps it’s attending daily mass if available, reading Scripture, saying a rosary, joining a faith sharing group, and thanking God for another day to use our gifts for good.
- Fasting: We ask, what habits are getting in the way of us doing God’s work? Is it self-indulgence? Inappropriate language? Addictions? Too much of something that robs us of time or desire to serve others?
- Almsgiving: We consider, what can we share with others that we currently are withholding? Time with family and friends; Money to just causes or struggling neighbors? Kindness to people who irritate us? Forgiveness to those who have harmed us?
The ashes we accept tonight symbolize our readiness to allow God to form us into a more loving community as the Body of Christ. Would that it was possible to keep this symbol of ashes before our eyes from this day forward. Instead, tonight, let the ashes signed on our foreheads become engraved in our hearts